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Nonprofits continue to struggle due to canceled events, deferred grants

  • Cheryl Orcutt is executive director of the Windy Row Learning Center in Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/9/2020 4:37:13 PM
Modified: 9/9/2020 4:37:03 PM

These days, Cheryl Orcutt is just hoping that Windy Row Learning Center can make it to year No. 18. But before the center’s executive director can really look that far down the road, she’s more concerned about the here and now and how Windy Row is going to operate once they reopen their doors in October.

Like many nonprofits, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Windy Row shut down its in-person way of operation and it drastically changed just about everything.

For almost two decades, Windy Row has specialized in one-on-one tutoring in reading and math for students with learning challenges. They made the switch to remote, but it’s just not the same.

“It’s very difficult to do except in person,” Orcutt said. “Our work is far less effective online.”

Not all parents were willing to make the switch, which decreased their numbers and resulted in a loss of revenue and the ability to apply for funding.

“Unless our numbers improve and get more full-paying students, which increases our numbers and we can apply for grants, it’s really in the balance of whether or not we can continue,” Orcutt said.

The plan right now is to reopen on Oct. 5 for in-person tutoring. Orcutt said they have outlined safety protocols that will make it safe, but the chance of another wave of COVID-19 could make those plans a moot point.

Despite the lack of money coming in, Orcutt said Windy Row still has rent and bills to pay, which has decreased the amount of money available if they have to shut down again.

“We live on a shoestring,” Orcutt said. “It’s been really difficult.”

Outside of the financial concerns, Orcutt worries about the students that need Windy Row.

“Our fear at Windy Row is kids have lost some of those skills gained through very hard work,” she said. As a special education teacher at Francestown Elementary, Orcutt knows that school districts work to provide as much support for students with learning difficulties as possible, but so many need extra help outside of the typical school day.

“If we’re not here, then they’re totally reliant on the schools and the schools can only do so much and go so far,” Orcutt said.

Orcutt expects that after schools made the transition to remote learning for the last three months of school, the number of students who could benefit from Windy Row’s services has likely increased, meaning they will be needed now more than ever.

“This has been a difficult time for kids with disabilities,” she said. When they do resume in-person operations, Orcutt said they will still be able to see up to eight students in an afternoon. The question is if parents will feel safe sending their kids.

Shelter From The Storm

Shelter From The Storm Executive Director Linda Harris said the organization that rents five apartments for individuals and families in need of temporary housing for up to eight months have been full since the pandemic hit.

Every year, Shelter From The Storm hosts two major fundraisers in the Taste of Monadnock and the Antique Roadshow and Raffle, which each bring in $15,000 to $20,000 annually. Along with some grant funding, the events help account for about 50 percent of the organization’s annual budget.

This year, Harris was forced to cancel the two events and some of their grants were deferred to the fall, but she’s unsure if those will come in as they planned.

“My guess is we won’t get them,” Harris said. But despite the lack of money coming in, Harris said Shelter From The Storm will be fine. They have some money in the bank that will subsidize the organization and little boosts like the one she received when Harris Welden, owner of The Pearl and Bantam in Peterborough, donated proceeds from the restaurant’s sales on Sept. 3.

“We could probably stay afloat for two years,” Harris said. “But it’s a tough year for everyone. Next year and the year after that we’ll have to do some soul searching and fundraising.”

With people out of work and struggling, Harris has received calls for help, but with the apartments full she has been forced to put people on the waitlist or refer them to other organizations or shelters. Even if she had the funds for another apartment, Harris said she likely wouldn’t be able to find one that fits their criteria.

The River Center

Margaret Nelson, executive director of the River Center, said people have been very generous since the pandemic hit, including a large response from the NH Gives campaign that brought in more than $21,000 and the annual spring appeal in May.

Add in the extra funding they received from the Monadnock United Way COVID-19 Relief Fund and Nelson said financially the River Center is doing alright.

But that’s right now, and the future is very uncertain, Nelson said.

“What’s it going to be like next January? What’s it like when we do our winter appeal in November?” Nelson said. “I can’t make any assumptions for the next year. There’s only so far people’s giving dollars can stretch.”

Nelson said due to the pandemic it’s hard to make connections with potential donors, where face-to-face interactions are crucial.

“This is wreaking havoc,” Nelson said. “It’s a tough time to be running a business, an organization, so being creative and having some plan B’s up your sleeve is important.”

Hardships across region

Liz LaRose, president of the Monadnock United Way, said overall, nonprofits are having a real difficult time, with many reporting revenue losses due to canceled events, from $5,000 for small fundraiser to $45,000 for a golf tournament.

“In other cases, revenue they might be getting from federal sources or other sources, may not come in,” LaRose said. “And it can be very hard for organizations to make up revenue like that.”

But the reality is that these organizations provide critical services to those who already needed it or do now because of coronavirus.

“Hats off to them because they’re the ones doing the hard work,” LaRose said. “Any programs that are providing services to individuals or families, those services are there because people need them and without those services it diminishes our value as a community.”

The United Way works closely with many childcare providers and they have been among the hardest hit.

“They’re in a really tough spot right now,” LaRose said.

The COVID-19 Relief Fund brought in $228,000 for immediate assistance for the partners of Monadnock United Way, as well as other nonprofits in need before the fund was switched to a recovery model for future distribution totaling $110,000.

LaRose said the United Way’s effort has now switched to the annual campaign in September with a goal of raising $1.277 million for grants next year. And if they don’t reach that total?

“Otherwise they’ll be finding another loss in their revenue stream,” LaRose said.


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